Each year coffee is harvested during the dry season, when the coffee cherries are bright red, glossy, and firm.
Ripe cherries are either harvested by hand, stripped from the tree with both unripe and overripe beans, or all the coffee beans are collected using a harvesting machine.
These processes are called selective picking, stripping, and mechanical harvesting, respectively. Selective picking is more expensive and is only used for Arabica beans. To maximize the amount of ripe coffee harvested, the ripe coffee beans must be selectively hand-picked from the tree, leaving the unripe, green beans to be harvested at a later date. About 12-20 kg of export ready coffee is produced from every 100 kg of coffee cherries harvested.
There is usually one coffee harvest per year. The time varies according to geographic zone, but generally, north of the Equator, harvest takes place between September and March, and south of the equator between April and May. Coffee is usually harvested by hand, either by stripping all the cherries off the branch at one time, or by selective picking.
In Brazil, harvesting the same coffee tree several times is less cost-effective than separating and discarding the unripe or overripe cherries. Therefore, Brazil growers typically harvest using the stripping method when 75% of the coffee crop is perfectly ripe. Stripping is feasible and cost-effective in Brazil due to the uniform maturation of Brazilian coffees. In stripping, the coffee beans are pulled from the tree and fall to the ground where they are caught by sheets. The beans are removed from tree debris by tossing the coffee in the air, allowing the wind to carry away sticks and leaves. The coffee is then put in 60 L green baskets, which is the measurement tool that coffee producers use to determine wages. This system accounts for the amount of coffee collected from each person, the difficulty of the harvesting conditions, and the production of the region being harvested.
Once picked, the coffee cherries must be processed immediately.